When I saw that Waterstones had decided to discount the price of the less than a year old Sony Pocket Edition reader to £99 my immediate reaction was that it simply wasn’t a big enough to compete with Amazon’s new £109 Kindle.
Let’s face it, when for a mere £10 more customers can get WiFi, a built in (though DRM-crippled) store and instant access to their books, why would anyone want a rapidly old-fashioned standalone reader?
My next thought was that, consciously or otherwise, Waterstones had probably started a process of price reductions that will soon commoditise eReaders. My hunch is that by this time next year, the grey screened, non-web enabled standalone readers will probably be on sale in your local supermarket for under £40.
Less than a year ago I predicted that “it won’t be long before the first major supermarket starts retailing a sub £100 device” – I might have got the nature of the retailer wrong but not only are Waterstones now eeking in just under that price point, but Argos are already beating it with an £89.99 reader.
Prices are heading downwards and I suspect the pace will pick up fairly quickly.
Not only are would-be buyers going to be tempted by the keenly priced Kindle, but the iPad is soon expected to be joined by a wave of Android powered tablets, all offering much more functionality.
If a £99 Sony is going to be squeezed by a £109 Kindle (and it will), so a £229 Sony will surely look increasingly unattractive compared with a £429 iPad which, though £200 more expensive, is capable of displaying magazines and comics and picture-rich books in glorious colour.
To look competitive, eReaders are going to have follow non-premium branded MP3 players, Freeview boxes and digital cameras into those supermarket ranges of cheap and cheerful electronics which causal shoppers are happy to take a punt on and try out.
Given that you can buy an MP3 player for less than a CD, the real question is: how long will it be before an eReader costs less than the latest hardback? My hunch is we’ll be there sooner than anyone expected 12 months ago.